California GOP Rep. Devin Nunes filed a major lawsuit seeking $250 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages against Twitter and a handful of its users on Monday, accusing the social media site of “shadow-banning conservatives” to secretly hide their posts, systematically censoring opposing viewpoints, and totally “ignoring” lawful complaints of repeated abusive behavior.
In a complaint filed in Virginia state court on Monday, obtained by Fox News, Nunes claimed Twitter wanted to derail his work on the House Intelligence Committee, which he chaired until 2019, as he looked into alleged and apparent surveillance abuses by the government. Nunes said Twitter was guilty of “knowingly hosting and monetizing content that is clearly abusive, hateful and defamatory – providing both a voice and financial incentive to the defamers – thereby facilitating defamation on its platform.”
The lawsuit alleged defamation, conspiracy and negligence, as well as violations of the state’s prohibition against “insulting words” — effectively fighting words that tend towards “violence and breach of the peace.” The complaint sought not only damages, but also an injunction compelling Twitter to turn over the identities behind numerous accounts he said harassed and defamed him.
“Twitter is a machine,” Nunes’ personal attorney, Steven S. Biss, told Fox News. “It is a modern-day Tammany Hall. Congressman Nunes intends to hold Twitter fully accountable for its abusive behavior and misconduct.”
Although federal law ordinarily exempts services like Twitter from defamation liability at all levels, Nunes’ suit said the platform has taken such an active role in curating and banning content — as opposed to merely hosting it — that it should face liability like any other organization that defames.
“Twitter created and developed the content at issue in this case by transforming false accusations of criminal conduct, imputed wrongdoing, dishonesty and lack of integrity into a publicly available commodity used by unscrupulous political operatives and their donor/clients as a weapon,” Nunes’ legal team wrote. “Twitter is ‘responsible’ for the development of offensive content on its platform because it in some way specifically encourages development of what is offensive about the content.”
The lawsuit is separate from Nunes’ work on the House Intelligence Committee, where he is now the ranking member. To prove his defamation charge, Nunes, as a public figure, would typically need to meet a higher standard than a private individual — essentially that the defendants acted intentionally or recklessly with respect to the provable falsity of their posts, rather than than merely negligently.